THE determination of the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola to implement the Nigeriaâ€™s largely ignored tax laws is drawing attentions, sometimes the wrong ones. It is to be expected, nobody likes to pay tax, we just do it out of obligation, or in situations we cannot avoid.
Nigerians sometimes think excuses are acceptable in place of obeying the law. One such excuse is that governments mismanage public funds, so more should not be handed over to them. Governments, on their part, following years of seemingly inexhaustible access to billions of Dollars from oil and gas paid minimal attention to taxation as a source of funding for public projects.
Governments face a major challenging in tackling dwindling resources from oil and gas. The push to fund public expenditure through taxation, legitimate and desirable as it is, comes at a time of high public discontent with governments and a global recession that hit Nigerians more than the authorities are willing to admit.
Under the tax laws, everyone who earns an income should pay tax on it. The deadline for filing personal income tax is the first 90 days of the New Year â€“ that should be latest by March 31. These laws have been there for years but governments did not bother with them.
Sentiments flowed into the issue with the specific determination of the Lagos State Government to take the tax drive to those who earn incomes from religious activities. The state government has explained that churches and mosques would not pay taxes, but the pastors and imams would pay personal income tax, since they earn incomes.
Even this explanation and the acceptance that these religions recognise taxation as legitimate source of income for governments has not mitigated the concerns that it could be a first step to taxing churches and mosques.
The new tax regime would be challenging as most Nigerians and their organisations hardly pay taxes that reflect their incomes. We expect the inclusion of workers of religious organisations as tax payers (many of them already do) would result in godly taxes.
Churches and mosques would be tasked to the hilt in the practice of their beliefs. With these religions subscribing to an all-powerful and all-knowing God, it would be good to see them practise what they preach by obeying the law.
These organisations have become richer than their initial status that made governments for years to ignore them and their workers. They do not have to go through the scandals that some other organisations endure while dodging taxes, including prompt remittances of taxes deducted from their staff.
Exemplary steps by religious organisations in paying taxes would help their members to follow suit. Governments also need to be more transparent with how they spend money from taxation.
Taxes are burdens on those who pay them. However, the burden is lessened when they feel the impact of developments that result from their sacrifices.
For taxation to succeed, both governments and the public have to act godly.